Uploaded to MoviePilot on August 2nd 2017
The original version of this had similar images to my 31 and War of the Planet of the Apes reviews and I thought about moving them too, but they look like shit and can just be replaced by text.
Scream was released in 1996 and it was a phenomenon. On a $14 million budget, the movie went on to make over $170 million at the box office, making it the highest grossing slasher film of all time. It was a monster hit that took everybody by surprise. Ever since then one key thing people said about Scream was that it saved the horror genre. Did it? Did it save it? Or, did it just change it?
Whisper To The Scream
Before Scream the state of horror was OK, not great but OK. A lot of the big series that’d started in the ’70s and ’80s were getting old by the time the ’90s began. Just as an example, 1991 saw the release of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Two years later, Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday was released. Halloween hadn’t seen a release since 1989 with Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. The very early ’90s were a time when major horror series were falling to pieces, but that didn’t mean that we were done, there were still some really good horror movies that were there to keep the genre alive.
Films like this also popped up in the 90s but let’s pretend they didn’t
Bride of Re-Animator, Child’s Play Two & Three and Predator Two showed that we still had a desire for sequels, just not eighth or ninth sequels to series that probably should’ve stopped at part four. It, Misery, Nightbreed, Tremors, Silence of the Lambs, Braindead and Candyman show that we still wanted original horror films that could terrify us in new ways, some of them might even hit big enough to win Oscars. Night of the Living Dead and Cape Fear proved that it was possible to remake old classics and make them even better than before. The genre wasn’t dead, it just wasn’t as massive as it was in the 80’s because, by this point, we knew the tropes, we knew what we were seeing and while we still went, nothing grabbed us like Friday, Halloween or Nightmare had. Someone, somewhere, needed to shake things up.
It’s important to remember that when Scream was due to be released, no one believed it was going to do well. For starters, it was being released around Christmas, which isn’t good for a horror movie. It was going up against Jerry Maguire and Mars Attacks, both of which were expected to blow everyone out of the water. Variety infamously dubbed the film D.O.A. before release. The rating board was giving them hell and almost gave the movie an NC17 rating, it was so close that the head of Dimension studio had to call the MPAA to fight for the lowered rating. It was not looking good for this movie right up until release.
You also have to remember that it was being directed by a man who had just come off Vampire in Brooklyn, you know, that awful vampire movie with Eddie Murphy? Yeah, that was the last film that Wes directed before Scream, so people thought that he’d lost his touch. It was basically a movie that had everything going against it right from the start… and then on December 20th 1996, Scream was released into cinemas and everything changed.
Scream If You Wanna Go Faster
When people refer to Scream as a hit, that’s putting it mildly. On a budget of $14 million dollars, Scream would go on to make $103 million dollars domestic, which is insane for a horror film and especially for a slasher. It’s the highest grossing Horror – Slasher film of all time, only followed by its two sequels and then Freddy VS Jason. It was a monster hit that no one saw coming and everyone believed it saved the genre. But did it? Well… no.
Horror as a genre has never really gone away, it’s been around since we started making art. From the old Grand Guignol theatres through to the latest Saw film, horror has always existed. It does change though, considerably, which can be seen in a fantastic timeline by Thoughtco that I’m going to speed through here but go look at their list for a great rundown of the history of horror.
In the early days of cinema, during the ’30s and into the ’40s, the world of horror was owned by Universal movie monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Studios would see this and tried to imitate it or parody it, but for a long time, it was all about those monsters. The ’50s brought us the invasion horror film, things like Thing From Another World or Them, movies that were playing on fears we built up during the Cold War. The ’60s is when everything really changed and we were introducing violence into the mix. That’s when we start building a world where Scream can thrive because it’s when the Slasher genre begins with films like Peeping Tom and Psycho. That genre would thrive in the ’70s and ’80s and keep going a respectable amount until the ’90s came by.
By the time we hit the 90’s we felt like we’d seen it all, so these tropes of the genre just weren’t hitting home the way they used too. Part of what made Scream work so well is that it felt real, we knew these kids and we knew this world so we could believe it more. No one had ever really let the characters know the tropes of horror films before… oh wait, they had.
The idea of movies that are aware of tropes goes back quite a long time, even in the 80s, this was happening with movies like Friday the 13th Part VI having characters openly talk about seeing horror movies and knowing that men in masks aren’t a good thing to run into. This idea would be repeated in Jason Goes To Hell when a major character explicitly says “Planning on smoking a little dope, having a little premarital sex and getting slaughtered”, an explicit meta-reference to the predictability of the genre. These two movies are the first real slashers to use the tropes of the genre as an element of the plot. Similarly, the 1985 film Demons took the idea of violent movies making people violent (A key plot point at the end of Scream) and made it the basis of the film, commenting on it with their use of the demons. But of course, all this would be overtaken by one Wes Craven movie that stole all the credit.
One, Two, Freddy’s coming for you Ghostface
New Nightmare is, of course, the film that I’m talking about. In 1994 it was a film that no one expected to be made (Partially because we expected FINAL to mean FINAL in the title “Final Nightmare” but that’s a rant for a different article) but it has all the markers of a meta-horror classic. Commenting on horror movies, everyone involved has seen horror movies enough to know the tropes. Hell, the main cast actually made the very horror movie that’s coming to haunt them now. It’s basically Scream with Freddy instead of Ghostface, it predates Scream by two years so combine New Nightmare with the two Friday sequels mentioned earlier and you have the perfect set of Meta horror films.
Red Right Hand
So why does Scream get the credit for saving horror? It wasn’t dead anyway, so why should this little slasher flick get the title of “The film that saved horror”? Well, it shouldn’t, it didn’t even really change it. What it did do very well was capitalize on the change that was already happening. To quote the bard, Drake, from his hit song Wu-Tang Forever “It ain’t about who did it first, it’s ’bout who did it right” and Scream really just did it right. They hit at exactly the right time when the slasher genre needed to change, they took the concept of people in the horror movie knowing all about horror films and ran with it. It was also lucky to have a pretty great cast that was well known enough that people would flock to them. They put Courtney Cox right on the front of the poster, making everyone curious to find out what Monica from Friends was doing in a slasher flick.
So no one told you life was gonna be this way *Stabstabstabstab*
To answer the question we started with. No, Scream didn’t save horror. Horror was fine, it was always going to be fine. Scream just shoved it in a new direction that every slasher film that followed wanted to imitate. There’s nothing wrong with being the movie to change the genre, but it’s not the movie that saved it.
So obvious question. What’s your favourite scary movie?